Net neutrality…what does that even mean? The term was first coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003. The topic of Net Neutrality has been bombarding our news feeds for the past few months. Everyone is talking about it but no one seems to understand what it’s all about. We are going to give you the low down on Net Neutrality so that you can stop pretending to know what’s going on.
The short explanation is this: Net neutrality is the idea that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally. Thus not discriminating or charging deferentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.
So put simply, net neutrality is what?
Essentially, net neutrality protects you from big bad companies that want to control the content you can access online. Net neutrality is the idea that all internet providers will need to treat all traffic sources equally. This means that AT&T, for instance, can’t cut support for FaceTime and your internet providers can’t slow down your connection for Netflix. Companies that have an interest in promoting a certain service can’t speed up one service and slow down the other. This is all enforced by the Federal Communications Commission also known as the FCC.
So net neutrality keeps things fair and even amongst all service providers no matter how big (or small) they are, leaving us internet users as the big winners: we get to enjoy unrestricted access to anything we want online. We, the users control the content we consume, not the service providers.
Why is net neutrality awesome for us?
There are a massive number of people that are pro net neutrality. These consist of consumer advocates, human rights groups and major tech companies. Net neutrality would allow us to enjoy unrestricted access to the internet. Netflix doesn’t want Verizon slowing down their streaming, Apple doesn’t want AT&T blocking FaceTime and neither do you. Advocates explain that we should all enjoy the same upload and download speeds regardless of the content we are accessing.
Net neutrality aims to keep the internet as an equal playing field in which small companies and users can enjoy the same usages rights as the billion dollar companies.
This all sounds jolly great, what are the drawbacks?
As you’ve probably guessed, the internet providers aren’t exactly pleased. Internet providers have invested billions in infrastructure and they see this as their own property. Therefore, they claim that they should be able to decide what content is allowed on their networks and how much they are going to charge for it. The providers see net neutrality as an aggressive attack on their future revenue.
If the providers could get their way, they would ideally have different packages, a non-restricted package that allows you to access the full realm of the internet (this would be the most expensive package). You could also get cheaper packages, and as the price goes down, the providers would impose more and more restrictions on the content you can access. Of course these restrictions would serve the internet providers interests.
The service providers point of view is understandable, take this as a more simplified example. Say Apple, a mega company that spends billions of dollars on research and development, makes a decision to have Apple Maps pre-installed on all its devices and blocks out the users ability to install map services from rivals such as Google Maps or Waze. As users, we wound’t be pleased, Apple stocks could even decrease in value (unlikely, and a different story for another day). However, this would be an understandable move from the point of view of Apple. It makes sense that they would push their own product and give it every advantage they can. Now, if the government comes along, the government that didn’t put a cent towards Apple’s development costs, and tells them what software they can and can’t block that’s going to be a problem for Apple. Net neutrality is no different.
So what’s happening now?
On February 26th of 2015, the United States FCC ruled in favour of net neutrality by reclassifying broadband access as a telecommunications service and thus applying Title 2 of the Communications Act of 1934 to Internet service providers.
FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, commented,
This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept.
Net neutrality is a go! To give you an idea of the proceedings that took place over the years, we made an awesome infographic that will give you the major stepping stones on the path to net neutrality. Enjoy!
Feature image: cvrcak1